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In September 2013, Gateway Community Outreach commissioned Transitions Global, now Hope for Justice,  a world leader in working with sex trafficking survivors to conduct the most comprehensive study to date on the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in Santa Clara County. Transitions Global interviewed law enforcement, social services, juvenile justice, and other local stakeholders to evaluate the magnitude of the problem in Santa Clara County and what support currently exists for underage victims and survivors.

This study revealed the challenge of identifying CSEC victims, as well as the larger problem of the lack of appropriate assistance to victims after they have been rescued. Due to a number of policy and legal issues, along with gaps in comprehensive services options, many victims are not receiving services sufficient to break the cycle of exploitation and abuse.

There are four key areas our study revealed that would greatly enhance Santa Clara County’s ability to serve CSEC victims:

1. Policy Creation and Protocol Development — Current laws regarding how youth are adjudicated through child services and the juvenile justice system often prevent CSEC victims from getting the services they need. Policy changes are required to create a clearer path for victims from rescue, through the healing process, toward reintegration.

2. Comprehensive Service Model — An innovative and bold program is needed to comprehensively meet the needs of CESC victims in Santa Clara County. Specifically a “compassionate custody” model that addresses the holistic needs of trafficking survivors.

3. Greater Collaboration — Although there have been a number of stakeholders intently working on the issue of trafficking in Santa Clara County and beyond, there needs to be a centralized communication network for coordinating efforts, agency reporting, and ensuring that the entire community is working toward common goals with accountability, quality assurance, as well as training in identifying and assisting victims.

4. Stronger Law Enforcement — As of 2012, the San Jose Police Department is short over 500 officers. This means that critical patrols, response calls, and routine police business is being neglected. In addition, SJPD Anti Trafficking Division funds and Department of Justice grants are running out in the coming months, leaving less than sufficient law enforcement budget for the rescue of minor victims.

Sex trafficking is an invisible crime, so the actual numbers of victims remains unknown. Increased investigations and child recovery operations will help us understand the level of child sex trafficking in Santa Clara. in the meantime, we must look at the number of children we are encountering currently (which is estimated at 114 victims ages 12-18) and determine how we can help them to find hope and healing.
While there is a growing momentum in the international community to address the needs of victims, the United States is lagging behind. With robust federal laws, comprehensive child protection services, the number of girls being trafficked is astounding and there are few specific services addressing how to identify, rescue, and restore the lives of these young women. Our study is the first to ever be conducted in the world, and our program is forerunner in holistic care for victims of trafficking.

Aftercare for Commercially Exploited Children

GCO, has partnered with world leaders in aftercare for sexually exploited minors to bring comprehensive after care solutions to Santa Clara County through a Residential Treatment Program, CCSC.

Currently, the United States does not have a national protocol for the adjudication and treatment of American minor sex trafficking victims. Though there are laws that govern for victims to receive appropriate care, there is currently no process that would allow for mandated or court directed placement into long-term treatment. The result is national gaps in providing meaningful and effective care to minor domestic victims. International victims, as well as, American adults have comprehensive services, based on their own agency; minor children do not. Each state has developed a protocol for children to be cared for through dependency, via child services; though many of these youth are in the delinquency system, which often results in low treatment rates, high recidivism rates, and increased failure for successful treatment of adolescent victims of sex trafficking.

CSEC (Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children) is the technical term for the sex trafficking of children in the United States. This has become a keystone issue in looking for solutions in how to create greater child protection mechanisms and how we can help to provide youth who are adjudicated by our court system, post rescue/recovery, into appropriate care programs.

Today, there are very few functioning programs that are providing state-of-the-art programs aimed at this high-risk population. With each local or national law enforcement effort to rescue children, we have found increasing gaps in our ability to provide meaningful and effective programs to assist youth in escaping their traffickers and pimps, but also the ‘lifestyle’ of exploitation and abuse, which victims are often drawn to through a ‘trauma bond’ developed with their perpetrators.

The result of not having an effective means of treatment is not having ‘success’ stories of child victims that have been recovered, treated, and reintegrated. Our current ‘successes’ are often young adults that were fortunate enough to find help of their own volition, after many attempts, and have found a semblance of health. As an example, in Southern California a young woman named Cody Foute, at the age of 16, after living in a highly abusive family environment was coerced by a pimp (claiming to be her boyfriend) to prostitute for him. She did so and endured tremendous abuse, as well as, having a child with her abuser. After several years, her daughter became a driving factor to escape. It has taken her years to fully recognize the exploitation that occurred and still to this day, she struggles with drug abuse, identity issues, and an ability to function as an independent adult. This is not representative of the type of stories we want for our children and the victims of trafficking in the US deserve a more intentional plan for assisting them. We cannot continue to fail them in our efforts and must look at what issues they are facing, how our system is not addressing the need, and how we can create solutions.

— James Pond, Transitions Global CEO